Technology-augmented courtrooms coupled with the employment of computer technology is both today’s trend and tomorrow’s reality. As trial teams utilize litigation support consultants and evidence management software, they acquire the ability to conduct “paperless trials” that are faster, less expensive, and more understandable to the jury. While computer-generated presentations in the courtroom cannot substitute for good lawyering or for having a good case, success in the courtroom requires effective communication and the persuasion of judges and jurors. Using technology can help you more effectively communicate and persuade.
Interactive Computer Presentations
Multimedia presentation software systems allow random access of documents, photos, charts, graphics, and videotaped witness testimony. Lawyers can access documents by barcodes or keyed-in numbers and display them for presentation via flat panel data monitors, wall-mounted plasma screens, touch screen smart boards, and LCD projection systems in the courtroom. Images can be manipulated in several ways during presentation. Examples include: annotation, the use of the “John Madden”-telestrator approach by writing directly on the screen for emphasis, zooming in, and the split screen approach for comparing documents side by side. Demonstrative evidence, documents, exhibits, and digital video can be stored on CD-ROM, DVD, and portable laptop computers with external hard drives. Computer-generated slide presentations can work effectively during opening statements and closing arguments, as well as to support specific expert witness testimony.
Document Automation and Management
No matter what our skill level and understanding is, we can manage the tasks of handling documents, storage, review, retrieval, and display better through computer hardware and software than any other available option. The first step in the process of document management is imaging. The terms imaging and scanning are used interchangeably. An “imaged” or “scanned” file is best described as a snapshot of the document itself. As each document is scanned, each image file is given a unique computer file name (usually, a Bates number) to distinguish it from all other files. Files are typically organized into file folders or directories based upon exhibit number, subject matter, or other criteria. Electronic presentations are easily scripted and choreographed with the use of trial notebooks containing thumbnail-size images of the printed electronic files with identifying barcode labels.
Databases are an invaluable tool to search, sort, cross-reference, retrieve, compare, and study a document library. Lawyers or their assistants code key document data into a database for use in preparation and at trial. This system works separately and independently from the presentation system and primarily to manage information. Encoded data usually includes Bates numbers, author, date, exhibit type, title, description, key words, and notes. Web-based database repositories can accommodate a large number of users with remote access capabilities. These repositories are being used successfully in multidistrict litigation by judges and counsel to coordinate and schedule case information. Attorneys and their staff can manage document productions more efficiently and with better quality control with this type of system versus the traditional practice of manually sorting through paper document libraries.
Digital Video Witness Testimony
Videotaped testimony is recorded in digital format (digital video transcripts or DVT) and synchronized with a text transcript. This process allows greater flexibility during the editing process and last-minute rulings by the court. Video testimony can be played with scrolling text to reinforce testimony. This can be particularly helpful when dealing with poor audio quality that may make the testimony difficult to understand. Trial lawyers can use clips created from selected page/line designations during courtroom proceedings as direct testimony and for impeachment of witnesses.
Interactive Demonstrative Evidence
Persuasive demonstratives and graphics that increase comprehension and retention of key evidence are critical to success in the courtroom. While we continue to see great demand for the traditional use of foam core “blow-ups” of key demonstratives and documents, interactive timelines with pull-down menus linked to “hot documents” are a viable solution for translating complex case information into simple and compelling visuals. This type of technological approach will find more and more use in the near future.
Courtroom to War Room
Wireless communication technologies create greater opportunity for real-time communications between the trial team working in the courtroom and the support team in the war room. High-speed Internet access in the courtroom offers a competitive advantage as it allows the trial team to upload and download information via secured FTP sites.
It is difficult to imagine the practice of law today without the use of computers, software, the Internet, and consultants who expertly advance courtroom technology. Technology has empowered lawyers to communicate more clearly, more powerfully, and more efficiently to judges and to jurors. Current technology provides a wealth of features that create efficiencies in costs and time. Legal clients will demand that lawyers remain technologically competitive to acquire and use the impact of the presentation and to achieve the cost savings associated with employing technology in the preparation and presentation process. More and more courtrooms are becoming automated with the hardware and software required for multimedia presentations. Soon the judicial system will expect and require that lawyers use computer technology throughout the litigation cycle from preparing the case to resolution in the courtroom.
Helen Palmore is a Vice President in Houston, Texas with Bowne DecisionQuest and manages the firm’s Courtroom Technology Group.